12 Positive Tips for Writers for 2014

  1. Stay positive above all else. You can listen to the doubters and nay-sayers and believe that success is impossible or you can trust in yourself and your talent and believe that hard work and determination will persevere.
  1. Take a moment to focus on your accomplishments. Think of this as a “I Did It!” walk. By focusing on things you have already accomplished, you create a fertile mind ready for success. Instead of “I haven’t accomplished this big goal yet,” take time to appreciate the smaller goals you have accomplished. Small steps lead to big leaps in success.
  1. Focus. Each morning ask yourself what are the most important things you can do today to help you succeed in your endeavors? Then work on those goals. By focusing on small steps each day, you will ultimately achieve the larger successes you desire.
  1. Talk to yourself instead of listening to yourself. Don’t listen to complaints, fears, and doubts, but instead talk to yourself about your small and large goals to feed your mind and soul with words of encouragement you need to keep moving forward towards your ultimate success.
  1. Remember that rejection is not a dead-end but a detour to a better outcome.
  1. Get plenty of sleep. You can’t replace sleep with a double espresso shot, although they sure do help perk us up.
  1. Don’t waste your energy on negative thoughts and things you can’t control. Instead, invest your time and energy on your goals and surround yourself with like-minded individuals.
  1. Mentor someone.
  1. Remember that there is no such thing as an overnight success and no substitute for hard work.
  1. Believe that everything happens for a reason and expect good things to come out of challenging experiences, no matter how dismal things may look at the time.
  1. At the end of each day, remember what you have accomplished that day and take time to reflect. Often we get so bogged down in trying to reach a larger goal that we fail to realize and appreciate the smaller goals we accomplish and the smaller obstacles that we have overcome.
  1.  Enjoy the ride. You only have one life, make the most of it each day and remember that success will come, even if that success is not in the form you expected it.

There’s a Reason It’s Called “Creative” Writing

There’s a Reason Why It’s Called “Creative” Writing :

What Advice to Keep, What to Kick to the Curb

 

I have always made it a habit to point out that when it comes to writing “rules,” I not only break the things, but I stomp all over them with a bloody vengeance.  The reason for this is simple.  When I was taking English Composition classes in college, my professor was a stickler for English writing rules.  It was a shock to my system, having always taken advanced English courses in high school that focused more on creativity than hard and fast ‘rules.’  I thrived in my high school writing classes.  I studied Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Charles Dickens in those earlier years, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Walt Whitman, and so many others that I simply cannot name them all.  We not only read their works and decoded their hidden meanings, but we dissected the written word, discussing what made each style unique and how they differed or remained the same from other styles of the same time period.  In essence, I was taught that creativity isn’t just about a good storyline and well-rounded characters; it is also about the style in which you write.

It’s no great mystery that a writer’s job is to keep their readers glued to the written word, enticing them into continuing with the adventure set forth on each page.  After all, if you are writing to not be read, then you are a mere critic, not an actual writer.  If you have people jumping ahead in the storyline out of sheer desperation to see what happens next, then you can still count yourself as a pretty dynamic writer.  However, if your readers are skipping over pages and pages of your work because they are so bored with the writing style that they can hardly plow through the storyline, then you can officially consider yourself a boring read.  In other words, if your story reads like a college English assignment, chances of people sitting down and reading it cover to cover are slim to none.

With this in mind, there are several “tips,” “tricks” and “good advice” from some pretty famous authors that have written books on writing that I not only cringe when I think of how wrong they are, I will argue the point until I am blue in the face on just how wrong their “advice” is.  Here are just a few bits of “advice” that you are better off not following:

1:  Your job as a writer is to seek out harsh criticism.

            Personally, I think this is laughable.  Your job as a writer is to get read.  And if you are being read on a regular basis, trust me, the harsh critics are going to find you.  All you have to do is write it and publish it and believe you me, the critics will all come out of the woodwork to rip your hard work to shreds, tell you everything they think you did wrong and should have changed, how they think you can improve as a writer, so on and so forth. 

            I’ve seen so many “published” and highly credited authors say, “An editor’s job is to point out what needs to be changed, ways to make the writing better and therefore make you a better writer.”  Sorry, wrong.  Editors aren’t writers, they are critics, and ninety-nine percent of the time, critics wouldn’t know a decent piece of creative writing if it bit them on their collective asses.  They are all looking for something that would easily earn an “A” in the college level English composition classes.  That’s not what creative writing is all about. 

            If an editor doesn’t “get” what an author is going for with a story or character or scene, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it can be made better or would be better if it was rewritten to the editor’s specifications.  Editors trying to live out their own failed dreams of becoming a well-known author and trashing great unknown writers is the very reason why so many of us have told them all to go take a flying leap off the nearest skyscraper and opting to become an independently published author.  I say that if an editor has the right to walk away or refuse a piece unless it is rewritten to their standards, then the writer has the same right to not only defend their choices, but to walk away as well.  I have always said that there is a big difference between asking for constructive criticism and bending over to let them give you the royal screwing while you politely ask for more.

            This is not to say, of course, that you cannot improve as a writer.  No matter how many years you have been writing, there is always room for improvement, be it with tying up loose ends, a more in-depth storyline, or more well-rounded characters.  Even the greats of our day like Stephen King and Anne Rice can still improve for one simple reason:  The only thing in this world that will ever make you a better writer is to write; anyone who is actively writing is going to naturally get better as they practice and hone their skills.

2:  Plot first.  No, character first.

            Depending on which of the greats you ask, some will tell you that having characters is the most important part of the planning process.  Others will argue that a good plotline is needed before you can even begin thinking about character development.  To this I say they are all wrong.  Both are equally important.  But if you can’t grab your readers’ attention and keep them reading, it doesn’t matter how great of a plotline you have or how ‘real’ your characters feel. That’s where that whole ‘creative’ thing comes in again and why finding your own writing style is essential.  Think of it this way, how many times have you read a book that had a very weak plotline but you kept right on reading because the writing style was so good that you just simply had to keep reading.  Likewise, you have probably read a book that was really poorly written but the plotline was so intriguing that, while you may have skipped over huge chunks, you still stuck with it long enough to find out how it all ended.  Having this outcome isn’t ideal, but it’s better than them giving up on reading your work at all.  This is why having well-rounded characters, a good plotline, and a very addictive writing style is a winning formula for keeping your audience.  Even if your plotline has been done to death, having ‘real’ characters and a great style will keep them coming back for more.  To sum up, the best compliment I ever received as a writer was this:  “I absolutely hate the genre you write in.  I loathe all things supernatural, but I find myself simply unable to put your work down.  I am so addicted to your writing style that I have read every single word you have ever published online and in print.  I am always being drawn into the story kicking and screaming because I don’t want to find it interesting, and within just a few paragraphs I find that I cannot stop reading until I get to the end.”

3:  I came across this in a blog article in reference to writing:  “She said. She didn’t ‘opine’, ‘conjecture’ or ‘venture’. She said. She can’t ‘smile’ or ‘laugh’. (‘Kill him at once,’ she laughed.) Not physically possible. (She laughed. ‘Kill him at once.’)”

            I cannot, for the life of me, understand why this person has such a hard time seeing that the first sentence in the parentheses (“Kill him at once,” she laughed.) is two separate actions.  “She laughed” isn’t telling how she spoke, it notes that the character said something and then either laughed or was laughing while she was talking.  But again, that’s where the whole creative writing comes into play.  It’s called ‘creative’ writing for a reason.  You can’t keep people glued to the page if your work reads like a self-aware word processing program wrote it.  If you could turn it into your college English professor and it not come back with red pen bleeding all over the thing, then you cannot call what you wrote ‘creative.’

And again, this is not to say that this sentence could not have stood some improvements.  Another way of writing this, but not necessarily a better way, would be “Kill him now,” she said with a laugh.

4:  Don’t repeat yourself.

            I actually got into an argument with another writer because I mentioned the same explanation twice in one of my novels.  ‘Why did you bring this subject up again, first in a paragraph and then with the characters discussing it?  It was useless banter.’ Why?  It’s simple. I didn’t actually mention the explanation twice.  The explanation actually started in one paragraph and was finished up by the characters discussing it.  I would like to point out that repeating yourself is not necessarily a bad thing.  You can’t expect a reader going through several hundred pages of twists and turns to remember something that happened fifty pages or a few hundred pages ago.  They are reading this for enjoyment, not to take a test afterwards.  They aren’t sitting around taking notes.  So if you feel that so much has happened that a reader needs a little refresher, then by all means, wash, rinse, repeat.

5:  Whatever you write, make it longer.  But cut out every unnecessary word.

            This is another one of those things that writers will argue about.  Some will tell you that after you write a paragraph or a scene, go back and make it longer.  Others will swear that less is more, that there is no need for flowery, over the top descriptions and adjectives because it distracts from the action. I say that length does not matter.  Write it, rewrite it, polish it, stop when it’s finished.  It’s that simple.  Unless you are under contract for your creation to be a specific length, then there are no hard and fast rules.  It’s finished when you say it’s finished.  If that means you can tell the story in ten thousand words, then that is how long your work will be.  If it takes you twice that many, then so be it.

With ‘rules’ that don’t hold a lick of truth to them come ‘rules’ that you should take to heart and vow to incorporate into your style no matter what.  And they are pretty simple enough:

1:  Learn to spell.  Unless you are trying to capture an accent in a dialogue, it is never ever okay, professional, or excusable for misspelling words or using the wrong word.

2:  Punctuation and proper grammatical sentence structure.  And by “proper grammatical structure” I mean learn to capitalize the first letter in a sentence, use commas appropriately, use end sentence punctuation, and learn when to start a new paragraph.  What I don’t mean is that sentences should be a model of English grammar.  Yep, it’s that whole creative thing again.

In the end there is only one hard and fast rule as a writer.  Get read.  Your ultimate job is to keep your readers happy and reading, by any means necessary.  And contrary to what every editor out there is going to tell you, no one knows your readers better than you.  So if dangling participles keep your audience intrigued, then writing rules be damned.

Back to Basics

As a writer, there are certain universal basics that you will need to follow regardless of whether you write short stories, novelettes, novels, or the like.  Other writing “rules” can be relaxed in certain instances depending upon the writer’s own personal style and the story at hand.

1.  misspelling words  and using the wrong word – Unless you are using street slang in a dialogue or trying to capture some other cultural element during the course of a conversation (be it between characters or internal dialogue between a character and himself), there is absolutely no excuse for misspelled words.  Likewise, there is no excuse for a writer to not know when to use the correct word, such as using “two” instead of “to” or “knew” instead of “new.”  Such elementary errors makes the author look unprofessional and uneducated.  The good news is that misspelled words and using wrong words is not something that will ultimately hamper your writing style.  More importantly, it is also nothing that a good proofreader will not be able to spot and correct.

2.  developed characters – Unless you are specifically trying to create a two-dimensional character, nothing says “amateur” like writing a 3000 page novel full of characters that all seem to speak and act the same way.  Add in characters that also have the personality of a grapefruit and you are sure to have one doozy of a snooze fest on your hands.  Take the time to put forth some serious thought into your characters.  Go beyond what they look like to include a brief history of their life.  How does their past history affect their way of thinking, the way they act, the way they perceive the world around them?  When they speak, are they always saying something smart-mouthed or are they laid back?  Do they anger easily?

If you have ever done any written role-playing, you will be familiar with a character biography.  I use this same technique when creating all of my characters.  It includes the character’s name, parents, birth date, age, their physical attributes, a brief history, their likes and dislikes, the way they act and their way of thinking about the world around them.  Taking the time to really focus on all the things that make a character the way he/she is will go a long way in making them seem more real and well-rounded to the readers.  Just knowing how they look is not enough. 

Having a character bio handy will help you to decide exactly how your character will react in certain situations in your storyline.  By having something to refer to, it ensures that your character will speak, act, and react the way you intended them in any given situation, making them more uniform and real.  After all, if you have a character that is terribly afraid of spiders who starts playing with a pet tarantula, it will make the readers scratch their head in confusion.  It may seem like a small thing, but if you have enough small “loose ends” in a 500 page novel, all those little things can add up to become a big fat flop in the eyes of the reader.

3.  developed storylines – Have you ever read a good book that did not have any “loose ends” left at the end?  Or perhaps you read a book that left more questions than answers or had you thinking long and hard about what was going on with the story?  Both instances can be a really good thing for the reader.  But having a story that leads nowhere is about as fun as week old catfish.  The last thing that you want to do is lead your reader through a maze where nothing happens.  But remember, there is nothing wrong with taking little ‘side trips’ through your story.  Think of it as your characters trying to get through the maze and taking a few wrong turns.  What matters is that the storyline starts in one place and ends in another.  Of course, if you are writing a series then the storyline as a whole will end in one spot while the individual plotlines for each novel in the series will end in another.

Confusing?  It can be, which is why taking the time to create a “map” of what you want to happen in each plotline can be very helpful in keeping your plots straight.  Writing an outline can be extremely helpful in doing this, especially if you intend to create a lot of twists and turns in your storyline.  Nothing says ‘aggravation’ for a writer like having to go back and try to work in a key element of your storyline that you forgot to incorporate the first time around.  Having some type of outline or ‘map’ to go by will help you to keep your storyline on track.  Otherwise, you may find yourself tossing out entire chunks (or even chapters) of your manuscript because you forgot to write in a very important part of the storyline.

Whether you are trying to write a simple short story or an epic novel, having a storyline that engages the reader is key to keeping the reader coming back for more.   If you have the reader take a trip that leads nowhere, shows them nothing, and has nothing happening, then you will most likely end up with a reader that tosses your latest creation out with the trash.

4.  basic grammar – Using grammar correctly can go a long way in keeping the reader interested without keeping them confused to the point where they don’t understand what it is that you are trying to say.  Run on sentences, fragments, dangling participles, excessive adverbs and adjectives…grammatical errors can work for you or against you. 

I would not ever tell a writer to not use run on sentences or to avoid fragmented sentences.  The first rule of thumb for a writer is to just sit down and write however it pops into your mind.  The important part is to go back and edit it, throwing out the grammatical errors that take away from the story, make it confusing, or makes the whole thing just sound like an elementary student wrote it.  There is a time and place for grammatical errors, but they should be used infrequently.  Let me give a few examples.

EXAMPLE:  Sitting in the car.  I tossed back in disgust.  My head landing on the headrest.  I had forgotten about my science exam again and now I was going to flunk and wouldn’t that just piss my mom off.  Damn.  Now what do I do?

In the above example, there are a lot of fragmented sentences and run on sentences.  It sounds bad, it’s hard for the reader to really understand what is going on, and it looks worse on the page than it sounds in the reader’s head.  This is an example of having a lot of grammatical errors that work against a story.

Now let’s look at this same passage again after it has been cleaned up.

EXAMPLE:  I tossed my head back in disgust.  I had forgotten about my science exam.  I was going to flunk now for sure.  My mom would be angry.  Now what do I do?

In this example, the passage has been cleaned up with all the unnecessary words taken out.  If I were to submit the original passage to an editor, the second example is close to what I would get back.  But it seems very drab, boring, and does not convey the agitation that the character is experiencing.

Here’s the same passage again, only this time there are a few fragmented sentences.

EXAMPLE:  I tossed my head back in disgust, the back of my head thudding dully as it hit the headrest.  I had forgotten all about my science exam.  Again.  Flunking was almost a certainty now.  My mom was going to be so pissed.  Damnit!  Now what do I do?

As you can see in the above example, there are several grammatical errors.  However, the way it is written clearly demonstrates the agitation and worry that the character is experiencing.  Not to mention that the way it reads does not seem so systematic and boring.  As I have said, creative writing isn’t just about coming up with a great plotline.  The way  in which a story is written can have just as much effect on the way a reader perceives the story as the actual plotline itself.  That effect can be positive or negative, depending on whether or not you use grammatical errors to your advantage or just sling words down on a page.  Some writers can pull this technique off, and some can’t.  If you are one of those who attempts to write in this style but the end product closely resembles word soup, you may want to just stick to basic writing principles.  Writing in this style takes years of practice and is not for everyone.

5.  dialogue – If you are writing a story, regardless of length, you are going to have characters.  Those characters are going to interact with each other.  And somewhere down the storyline, they are going to speak to each other.  Thankfully, dialogue is not rocket science.  The best way to pull off good dialogue to keep your characters, well, in character.  If the person speaking has the type of personality that would cause them to make some smartass comment during the situation at hand, then write it down that way.  If the person speaking would make some off-the-wall comment that has absolutely nothing to do with what is going on or the conversation at hand, then feel free to write it that way.  Don’t try to make it sound “perfect.”  If you try to force dialogue between characters then it is going to come off sounding that way to the reader. 

The wonderful thing about dialogue is that all the basic rules and regulations of good writing goes out the window.  If you are trying to capture a Cajun accent, then there is no need to try to spell correctly, use complete sentences, or follow all the basic grammar rules.  Unless, of course, you have a southern bell speaking to her betrothed.  This one again goes back to having your characters speak in a way that compliments their personality and style.  For example, if your character is a very proper and highly educated gentlemen, having him speak in slang terms and fragmented sentences will throw the whole feel of the story off and confuse the reader as well.  Characters should speak, act, and react in a way that is true to their own personalities.

Another great thing about dialogue is that it does not have to have anything to do with the storyline.  It does not have to further the plot.  Sometimes characters talk amongst themselves just for the sheer joy of it.  Allow them to ramble once in a while.  Interesting diversions are always a good way to keep the reader interested.

Which brings me to my last bit of basic writing skills.

6.  keep the reader interested – This bears repeating.  KEEP.  THE.  READER.  INTERESTED.  By any means necessary.  Use your writing style to keep the reader wanting to read every word you have committed to paper.  If that means breaking some of the rules, then more power to you.  However, break rules cautiously.  Whatever your writing style, having a strong storyline and well-rounded, believable characters will go a long way towards keeping your audience coming back for more.